All the recent talk of Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) sounds like an invitation to party like it's 1999. After all, back then high-tech jargon reigned supreme. Today, SBC Communications (NYSE:SBC) got on the bandwagon, saying it will provide Wi-Fi access to UPS (NYSE:UPS). Is it as exciting as it sounds?

Under the deal, if you have a laptop, you will be able to go to a participating UPS Store or one of its Mail Boxes Etc. locations and use their wireless "hot spots" to log on to the Internet, even if you're hundreds of miles from home or office. The press release said that even business users whose laptops are not Wi-Fi enabled can use the hot spots. For a fee, of course.

Just like its archrival, Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick FedEx (NYSE:FDX), UPS is courting the mobile business worker. Though UPS predated FedEx in the arena by snapping up the Mail Boxes Etc. stores, FedEx's recent acquisition, Kinko's, already provides Wi-Fi service through Deutsche Telekom's (NYSE:DT) T-Mobile.

The deal probably means the most to SBC, which is also looking to attract the same demographic. As the No. 2 telecom provider, SBC is touting the UPS deal as one of the largest commercial deployments of Wi-Fi in the U.S. By year end, it expects to have 1,500 UPS stores set up, with installations continuing through 2005. Overall, SBC hopes to have 20,000 hot spots in 6,000 locations by 2007.

Much has been made of Wi-Fi recently. First of all, many more people are interested in having wireless connectivity with their laptops -- after all, if you don't have it, then what's the point of portability in the first place? These days, most of us use our computers as connected communication tools above all. And Gartner Group forecasts Wi-Fi users at 30 million in 2004, a far cry from the 9.3 million users last year.

USA Today included an enthusiastic feature on Wi-Fi's future recently, predicting that soon, wireless connectivity will be everywhere. From an individual standpoint, that's a great thing. However, whether people are willing to pay for their wireless access is a whole other problem, especially considering that Wi-Fi is available in some venues for free.

Ever since ISPs switched from hourly charges to the all-you-can-eat Internet connectivity, a key to Internet connectivity has been value. And the last few years of difficult economic times have probably taught most business users to stretch even the company's bucks. On the commercial side of things, it seems that if the price isn't right, Wi-Fi may not be such a high flyer.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.